Undead, Underneath and Under-Justices
My word, we’re at U already, and have covered so little…
Let’s start with undead. There are lots of undead in the Blight, in fact a whole populace of them somewhere out there, known collectively as the Fetch. Let’s make no bones about it, many of the Fetch are ghouls; ghouls thrive in a place like this with its refuse and alleyways and countless sickly victims…Ghouls are the lowest caste; the cattle of undead in the Blight—since no member of the Fetch would stoop to call a skeleton or zombie brother or sister. Some ghouls, it is true, rise in power and infamy, but they’re still just ghouls to the higher caste Fetch; serfs, beasts, playthings.
Glowering from on high is the vampire Beltane—God Emperor of the Fetch and one of the living gods of the Blight. Ah Beltane, King of Thorns, Master of Impaling, none dare face him, even the lichs and worse that lurk below the city. Beltane is the king, the god; they may plot against him (this is the Blight after all) they may seek to remove him—destroy him—but he’s ruled for as long as any undead can remember, and that is a long, long time.
And there is, of course, his legendarily refined ways of avenging himself on those who wronged him. No one can forget those...
Beltane has his brides and spies who go about his business, but the god-emperor is also careful not to overstep his infamy and try to overthrow the city, that would be foolish. There are some who say he has seduced the royal princesses—still does, and has a hand in the affairs of men when it suits him. It is surely just a story.
Every three years at longest night the Fetch rise and come abroad in a festival known as Calamity. This night the good people of Castorhage lock their doors, bar their windows and hide their babes for fear of the Wild Hunt, when the undead dance on the rooftops and for one dark night the city is theirs. Quite why this festival occurs and why it is allowed is conjecture, but one thing is for certain—only a fool would go out on such a night—that or someone with a very good reason to do so.
Where do the Fetch live? Wherever they find a nice dark hole, underground most often, in a place generically called Underneath.
My sincere apologies! We haven’t even stepped into Underneath yet, not even raised a whisper about her in fact, how remiss, a whole district yet to be discussed at this late hour.
Just as so many people know you’re never more than six feet from a rat in the Blight, so almost as many use the phrase ‘what lies just below your feet my friend?’
It touches the whole city; every footfall, every spewing sewer, every gutter comes its way. Downwards.
Its crust lies but a hair’s breadth from everyday life and yet it is completely different. Its darkness hides secrets and things that like the cloying blackness, and its veins writhe across the city, doors opening easily into the light above.
The Underneath is almost unique in the Blight; perhaps only the Great Lyme River has so many facets, so many personalities as the great deeps below.
Some foolishly think the Underneath is a dead place; it is the opposite. The Outer Level or Skin is teeming with miners and workers and toil; as well as those who mingle with the city folk by night—be they ghouls or rats or slithering things that steal faces. This outer skin is a maze of hundreds of pockets of development and caves and even townships; dwarves in particular enjoy the darkness and like to be closest to their toils. They have brought a semblance of order into the dark, but theirs is but the urban peel of this vast dark wilderness.
Beyond and below, the many facets and levels of the Mines are where urbane ends and wilderness begins. This is the zone between the happy homes of the underground dwellers and their less welcome nervous neighbors, and where the true dark begins. Occasionally something abominable slithers upwards into this area; it may rage and kill for a time before being sought out by dwarves who kill it, or die trying. The Mines are rougher, deeper and more natural than the Skin, new caves often appear—particularly below the unstable Hollow Hills—these new caverns sometimes bring great wealth, but they more often than not bring just peril.
Countless paranoid rulers have ordered palaces built below the streets to escape a coming apocalypse, endless numbers of gangs and cults and cabals have lurked and worked here, sometimes for generations. And then there is Between, which has a darker face here (if that is possible), and the stories of something that lives far, far below the city that has never seen the sun. Locals call this thing the Bodysnatcher, and they say that its tendrils grope in the twilight and take people, take them like skum do with women and return something that has somehow changed.
So next time you lean over to tie your boots, look hard at the ground, it’s but a thin skin below which something is lurking, something hungry…
Finally today, let’s have a brief look at Under-Justices. These foul and greedy petty officials and bullies lurk below the thirteen justices who hold power below the Grand Justices. In a delicate balance between dictatorship to those below and terror from above, the Under-Justices dish out punishments to their own Streetclerks, who in turn act as a local authority for justice and bully those below them in vengeance.
The whole relationship is like a house of cards, just waiting for someone to come in and upset it. Take His Magnificence Justice Shank—Lord of the River (NE male wererat fighter 10) for example. Ally of the Family (see Festival) Shank aims to make the Blight a wererat metropolis. Shank presently lives in the Hollow and Broken Hills (Area#HBH 29—The Bridge of Storms).
Shank has a whole host of wererats as his Under-Justices, and sends them out on countless missions via trustworthy or dead contacts to spread disorder. Quietly—and against the Troth—he is spreading lycanthropy through his followers, and slowly a plague is building.
A battle against Shank’s followers—from Streetclerk to the Under-Justices and finally with Shank himself, could fill a whole AP. Shank’s blatant disregard for the Troth is an affront to the Family, and it could be that the PCs become uneasy allies of the wererats in an ongoing battle. It could also be an AP for those infected by lycanthropy, the choice is yours. You might like to run an AP where the PCs rely on others to hide them against the swarm of rats that slowly grows against them, and relies on allies and cunning to escape an impossible force. You might like to turn it on its head and have the PCs hunt the rats out mercilessly; agents of a church or order or out of a need for vengeance. You might want such an AP as a future Frog God Games publication…
There are thirteen Justices, and countless Under-Justices in this city, each with a story and the possibility of adventure, and each looking over their shoulder waiting for the axe to fall.
Like them, be careful, you’ve just entered the wrong side of town…